Rahul Pophali helps to create world music

By Kevin Teller

When people bob their heads to country or rock music on the radio in America, they might not consider that there are different enticing beats and melodies that exist around the globe.

Fans at the World Music Concert heard such new possibilities last Friday, Nov. 14, in Varner Recital Hall.

Boasting a lineup of the African Drum Ensemble, the World Percussion Ensemble and the Steel Band, the concert was a fusion of all of these different styles.

The night featured an esteemed guest as well: tabla drum master Rahul Pophali. Pophali, who is currently on a nationwide tour of the US, lent his skills to numerous of the pieces performed that night, adding the influence of Indian instrumentation and rhythm.

At the beginning of the second half, Pophali played a solo tabla piece as well, in which he enlisted the audience’s participation through clapping.

Pophali used this as a tool to demonstrate the unique Indian rhythms to a Western musical sense.

These are different from the typical 4-count or 3-count rhythms that are most often heard on the radio, so it was a creative way of educating the audience about the technique of the music.

Pophali said that this connection with the audience is one of his favorite things about performing. It fuels his creativity and gives him a channel in which he and the audience can be expressive together.

Rahul Pophali began playing the tabla when he was around eight years old after being inspired by a performer on television. His dedication to the instrument — and music in general — has only grown since.

“It’s been a long, long journey so far, and it always continues,” Pophali said regarding his musical career.

While recognizing the global impact that his music has had over the 28 years he has played, Pophali is still humble enough to always seek growth in his ability.

“When you play an instrument for so long, what happens is it becomes an additional dimension to your personality,” Pophali said. “It becomes a mode of expression. It’s like an extension of your own being.”

Pophali says the goal that he is actively trying to reach is to be able to close the gap between the music that his mind thinks and what he can execute. He wants the two to become one and be able to do exactly what he is thinking when he thinks it.

Friday night’s entertainment was largely put together by OU World Music Lecturer Patrick Fitzgibbon. Many of the pieces performed were arranged and led by Fitzgibbon, as he has been the one primarily working with them this semester.

“We focus a lot on West African stuff and the Trinidadian Steel Band, but we’re expanding into Indian and Arabic percussion more with this concert,” Fitzgibbon said.

He spoke about the world music program Oakland offers as a minor as well. As part of this discipline, students are trained in multiple world music instruments.

Students also have opportunities to study abroad for the program as well. One of these options is to travel to Trinidad to explore the music of the steel drums firsthand.

However, Fitzgibbon stresses that world music students are not the only ones who are eligible to play. All Oakland students are welcome to join the band and can contact him at [email protected].

Rahul Pophali also gives private tabla lessons online to anyone interested in learning to play. They can be found at tablarahul.com or onlinetablalessons.com.